Scratch the Head of Ranch Security

Back in March (2021) Texas Monthly published a feature article about John R. Erickson, the creator and ongoing author of Hank the Cowdog. Almost any schoolkid can tell you that Hank is the head of ranch security and Drover has a pain in his leg. But there is more to Hank’s (and Erickson’s) story. Much more.

Hank the cowdog book illustration, Slim Chance (human) driving a pickup truck with two dogs--Hank the cowdog and Drover-- in the bed

There were maybe 10 books or so out when I started reading them in Elementary school. Our third grade teacher read the first one to us. This one included the phenomenal episode with the boxer tied up in the bed of a parked pickup. That scene sets the standard for the books that has always delivered. A decade and a half later my grandfather was reading them aloud to my aunt and her great niece in the afternoons before she went to work.

I bought an extra copy of the issue and sent it to him with some birthday cookies my son and I made him. The article is a fascinating look into the life of the creator of an icon and the twists, turns, and determination it took to get Hank to the people and the grit it takes to keep him there. Erickson writes two new books a year, and the count is up to 76.

As capricous as the internet can be I wanted to have a place where the article was not only linked but saved as a PDF for people to read in the future. I also wanted a way to preserve the beautiful layout of the magazine including Erickson and Hank on the cover that is lost when you just share the story via this Texas Monthly link.

decorative image of a hank the cowdog book illustration of four dogs in the back of a pickup truck.

In fact there are two PDFs. One is the scan of the magazine and the other is an export of the online article. The latter has better image quality and more images than were used in print. The former includes the cover and the letter from the editor. Whichever you chose enjoy reading about the ranchhand who went to Harvard Divinity School and how he created, and maintains, an enduring literature icon. Or, do like me and look at both and the online link above and wonder about all the differences involved in writing for the web versus writing for the page.

Texas has several distinct locals and regions, and the area of Texas I grew up in (Southeast) was about as different from the Pandhandle and West Texas ranchlands as the snow covered cabins in the “snowy scenes and verdant forests” that Texas Monthly‘s editor Dan Goodgame mentions in his “From the Editor” note in the physical copy of the March issue.

Erickson’s work goes far beyond a funny dog on a Texas ranch. It’s a generational bond that grows each time someone is introduced to Hank. My grandfather, (who just turned 90) whom I read to and with, and who read these books to my grown aunt and her great niece is sending my son, his great-grandson, the first twenty Hank the Cowdog books for his third birthday this month. The irony is that since my great-great grandfather was the fist born in this country (in Texas) my grandfather and my son are the only ones of us who haven’t been born in Texas. My grandfather was born on a ranch (“Sunset Ranch” he says, but his birth certificate says “Sunseth”) in Picacho, New Mexico where his father was ranch foreman. My son was born in OKC. I work as an exhibits foreman on a University (OU) Library ranch herding cats, I mean curators. There is some symmetry here, and many Drovers.

Papaw did tell me some years back that our family does have a brand on file “in the books.” “It’s the Cross-Bar, the easiest thing in the world to cover with another brand.”

John R. Erickson sitting in a chair writing in his cabin while petting his dog Rosie.
John R. Erickson and his Dog Rosie out in Erickson’s writing cabin.

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